Budget hawks seek to alter process; appropriators balk

House GOP fiscal conservatives are uniting behind a proposal they say will go further than the administration to tamp down spending.

The bill will be introduced by Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as early as this week, although that schedule could slip until early next week. The measure aims to overhaul the budget process by embracing recommendations proposed by President Bush in his fiscal 2005 budget, including a binding joint budget resolution, biennial budgeting, line-item spending reductions and an automatic continuing resolution if spending bills are not completed on time.

The conservatives' bill would also provide for a 1 percent decrease in spending each quarter under a CR for all agencies covered by the temporary measure. The measure has already run into opposition from appropriators, who would get a referral to their panel. "It will never see the light of day," a House Appropriations Committee spokesman said.

According to an outline of the draft legislation, the measure would limit the growth of entitlement spending to the rate of inflation and population growth, and cap discretionary spending at the rate of inflation, enforced by budget points of order. If the caps are breached, the bill would trigger across-the-board cuts in many programs, although Medicare, Medicaid, veterans and military benefits and some low-income programs would be limited to just a 2 percent cut, and defense spending would be exempted from cuts for national security reasons.

"We believe the outrage level is getting high enough that we may be able to pass this," Ryan said.

Under the bill, a two-thirds supermajority would be required in both the House and Senate to waive points of order. It would prevent the designation of "emergency" spending to sidestep budget caps, freeze "advance appropriations" at the fiscal 2004 level; sunset all mandatory and discretionary programs in fiscal 2008-2009 with the exception of Social Security, veterans' benefits and a few others; freeze funding for programs with expired authorizations; and allow the president to rescind spending deemed wasteful, subject to congressional approval.

The measure also would prevent the inclusion of additional spending bills outside of the 13 appropriations subcommittees; the fiscal 2004 omnibus included a "miscellaneous" package of add-ons and offsets.

House GOP leaders have not signed off on the package but have signaled their intent to move elements. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said he was considering bringing a "budget process bill to the floor" this year. He also said Congress ought to scrutinize unauthorized spending.

"We need to take a very hard look at unauthorized programs and see which ones should be funded and which ones should not," he said. House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, said his panel also would consider rescissions to curtail spending.

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